Brighton Fringe 2022
Join Small Acts for an afternoon session exploring the enduring role of pubs. Demand a lock-in! This is one performance party you won’t want to leave. Presented as part of the Cornish Season at Miracle Theatre’s bijou Fleapit Theatre.
Photo by Peter Chrisp
Where would you go if, say, you were locked out of your house, or had an hour to kill before a show? Maybe you just need a bit of space to yourself, where people know you but on different terms to those you live with? Chances are it would be the pub; your local, or one that feels like it to you.
This would definitely have been the case for Katie Etheridge and Simon Persighetti, makers of Future Pub, had it not been for the fact that their Penryn local The Seven Stars closed, seemingly for good, in 2017. The loss they and their community felt at this sudden void was the impetus for their thoughtful and thought-provoking hour of playful, beautifully conceived theatre.
We sit in a facsimile of a boozer; wooden bar with bell, flat screen telly, spangly curtain and fringed podium, some tables and chairs for us customers. We’re invited to be present, to have a drink, join a song or two and contribute our thoughts, via beermats of course, on our hopes and fears for the life of the pub. There’s a pub quiz, set by a different guest at each show; ours was Miles Jenner from a certain brewery in Lewes. My team lost.
Neatly our pub is inside a church, buildings which also play a social role in villages and towns and which are similarly struggling to hold on. Imagine, some have even become arts centres.
It’s performance as conversation. Katie and Simon, in colours that pleasingly match the set, have a gentle rapport and unfussy performance style as they give us a song here, a poem there (look out John Cooper Clarke you’ve got a doppelgänger) and ask for our help in getting through a time portal to the future, with a hunter’s horn and a wurzel stick. Time is a key theme in the show; how it seems to shrink when you’re in good company, how the past two years have muddled our minds – when did lockdown actually start? Did we have an illegal party?
Sometimes pubs are a microcosm of society; born out by the filmed interviews with fellow Seven Stars customers all mourning the loss of their pub. The pandemic saw the permanent closure of 3,000 pubs and many of those that remain changed how they operate, stripping back rooms for ease of movement, offering food or table service, reducing their drinks range while putting prices up. Katie and Simon offer a sobering vision of the future pub with automated ordering, robot staff and miniature drinks.
Small Acts have form on this subject. Their four year project Public House – The Yorkshire Square recreated lost pubs in a Leeds market. Their work has communities at heart and despite its lightness of touch and emphasis on fun it gets to the nub of important matters: fairness vs greed. In 2020 The Seven Stars reopened, as an Asset of Community Value, with bedrooms and microbrewery. Good news, but somehow it has lost its intrinsic pubness.
As Katie says, it’s that frisson you get when you enter a pub you know will like, when the drinks look good, the smell is classic pub, there are people at the bar. As a piece of theatre Future Pub shares this frisson. Its charm and warmth, clever use of space and furniture, its good lighting invite you in. It is full of oddities, ideas and laughs we can share with new friends. Over a half of Harvey’s, naturally.